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CBD is a compound derived from Cannabis, and with regards to ongoing research, it holds great potential in treating patients with epilepsy. This is especially so in children with refractory epilepsy (epilepsy that responds poorly to conventional treatments).

So, what specifically does the research show about CBD for epilepsy?

Well, according to the preliminary results, there is a lot of hope at the end of the tunnel for people suffering from untreatable forms of epilepsy. This is especially so after the completion of gold-standard studies (double-blind, placebo-controlled studies) that proved the effectiveness of a pure liquid form of CBD in treating seizures. This introductory piece will take you briefly through the available research to treating epilepsy using CBD. For detailed information concerning all the research studying the efficacy of CBD for epilepsy, read this article.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent surges of electrical activity in the brain, also known as seizures. These electrical impulses can spread throughout the muscular system, causing the patient to twitch/convulse. There are more than 40 different kinds of epilepsy that can cause over excitation of the neural activity in the brain.

While scientists still cannot explain the exact cause of these seizures, several risk factors have been recognized, these include:

  • Head injuries
  • Brain tumors
  • Low oxygen to the brain during birth
  • Strokes
  • Low sugar or sodium levels in the blood

Normally, epilepsy is treated using antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) that are designed to stop/control the electrical surge in the brain that causes seizures. These anticonvulsants include clonazepam, phenytoin, phenobarbital, primidone, valproic acid, and ethosuximide. Almost a third of all the patients diagnosed with epilepsy suffer from some kind of refractory epilepsy. Refractory epilepsy, also called intractable, uncontrolled or drug-resistant, are forms of seizures that do not respond even after the patient has completed two trials of different AED medication. Furthermore, most of these treatments come with numerous side effects including: nausea, hair loss, migraines, liver failure, weight gain, double vision, depression, insomnia, sedation, slurred speech, irritability, sedation and mood distortion.

Once the intractable status of the seizures has been established, alternative methods are usually considered, but even these have proven ineffective. As a result, the potential benefits of CBD in treating epilepsy could not come at a better time.

In the U.S. alone, 150,000 people are diagnosed with some form of epilepsy every year and as a matter of fact, one in every twenty-six people will experience a seizure episod eat some point in their lives.

By themselves, seizures are not harmful, however, they may cause other complications that threaten the well-being of the patient. Depending on what one is doing and where someone is when a seizure occurs, there is a great risk of lethal accidents occurring which makes it vital to prevent these convulsions. Considering that we spend $15.5 billion annually to combat this condition in America alone, we can use any help we get, and the use of CBD for epilespy looks promising.

How Does Cannabis Help to Control Seizures?

There is evidence from anecdotal reports, laboratory studies and small clinical trials from the past four decades suggesting that cannabidiol (CBD), could help in controlling seizures. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound derived from the cannabis plant. Even though conducting studies on this area has been difficult due to Federal regulation to the access of Cannabis, limited funds and time difficulties, these is now tangible evidence that CBD can help reduce seizures.

Starting with the latest news, the FDA advisory panel recently voted unanimously recommending the approval of a new CBD-based epilepsy drug called Epidiolex (99% CBD extract). The decision was made after three open-label studies showed meaningful results of the effectiveness of CBD for the treatment of epileptic seizures. More specifically those associated with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes.

Results from 214 patients ranging from 2 to 26 years old who participated in the Epidiolex study were published in the Lancet Neurology. All the patients had some form of intractable epilepsy. The scientists found that seizures decreased by an average of 54% during the study. In the study, patients under clobazam, an anti-seizure medication, seemed to respond better to Epidiolex treatment.

Furthermore, high-quality (two double-blind, placebo-controlled) studies seeking to find out the effectiveness of CBD in treating Lennox Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome were recently published  and widely publicized by GW Pharmaceuticals, the company behind Epidiolex.

According to the gold-standard studies, drop seizures decreased by 40% in patients who had taken the medication compared to only 20% of those under placebo. In the Dravet syndrome study, there was a 40% reduction in convulsive seizures compared to 17% in the ones who had taken a placebo.

There are many more clinical trials, anecdotal reports and laboratory studies showing the efficacy of CBD in treating epilepsy. For example, in Colorado, there was a 50% reduction in seizures after beginning oral cannabis therapy in a third of 75 children and adolescents suffering from drug-resistant epilepsy. Those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome reported the highest apparent benefit. There were also reports of other valuable effects such as improved focus and behavior. Almost a half of the participants reported some sort of side effect, including increased seizures (13%) and fatigue (12%). Read this full article for more information.

What is the science behind CBD’s efficacy in seizure treatment?

CBD is one of the over a hundred compounds found in Cannabis plants, called cannabinoids. Both CBD and THC have been shown to have anticonvulsive effects. Nonetheless, more focus shifted to CBD due to its non-psychoactive nature, unlike THC which is responsible for the famous ‘high.’

In initial CBD for epilepsy studies, scientists believed that the cannabinoid reduced seizures by interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors that are found the brain and throughout the body. However, the most recent revisions suggest different mechanisms of action. For instance, an Israeli study found that CBD is mediated by non-cannabinoid receptors, including G protein-coupled CB1R and type 2 CBR2 receptors. CBR1 mediates neural inhibition by decreasing calcium ions and increasing potassium ions in presynaptic terminals, hence obstructing electrical firings in the brain, thereby reducing seizures.

Moreover, CBD has been shown to inhibit glutamate activity which is known to cause neural excitation. To finish off, CBD possesses potent anti-inflammatory characteristics. By reducing inflammation in the brain, which is believed to increase seizures, CBD able to control epilepsy.

What are some of the side effects of using CBD?

The side effects of the crude CBD preparations used to treat seizures is not well documented in the available anecdotal reports. This can be attributed to the ranging strains, doses and methods of preparation used. Nevertheless, effects such as increased appetite and issues with memory have been widely reported.

In line with data from the open-label studies and gold-standard studies discussed above, side effects were reported in some of the participants. These included:

  • Tiredness
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea

It was noted that the tiredness experienced by some of the patients might have been caused by the interaction of CBD and clobazam, an AED used to treat epilepsy. Both drugs are broken down in the liver and appear to interact heavily.

Conclusion

Scientists are still working to understand the true nature of CBD and how it interacts with our bodies to manifest numerous therapeutic effects. That being said, studies are still at their initial stages. We will keep a close eye on any developments in this matter, and of course, we will keep you posted.


Articles on the use of CBD to relieve symptoms related to epilepsy and seizures

CBD & Epilepsy 

CBD As Treatment For Epileptic Seizures


 

 


Research and Case Studies on the effects of Cannabis to treat Epilepsy and Seizures: